Mechanic in a Photograph Taken in 1940

Tim DeJong

Barely in frame, he stands

on the far right of a scene

shaded in ochre, sepia, brown,

his lower half obscured by the 1938 Dodge

he’s working on, or about to.

Five other employees take

a more central role, but from

his position on the margins

he seems to challenge the camera’s eye,

elbow cocked, left hand on hip,

as if waiting with mild

irritation for the moment to pass

so that he might return to work.

For it’s midday — the work’s not done.

I’ve arrived late to see

him all but lost, adrift

in time and space. His hands

(along with millions more)

built what we live inside, along, nearby.

Brute labor, dignified, much of it

unrecorded. Let’s call

things by their proper names

even as we dismay over

what’s lost, over how most

of what we do is misaligned,

awry, is slipshod, slighted.

Precision rejects vague prescription,

remakes in mind

all we’ve made wayward, adjusts

the frame till outside’s sighted,

spills in, haunted, laughing, both.

Whatever the past is

there is no door to it,

there is only the unsolvable

difference between is and was.

Ahead of it our ordered tasks

undo themselves as each

is completed and goes

to where all things go that are gone forever,

that is, goes where all things go,

as the world spins endlessly, and nothing

ever changes. Then it does.


about the author